Sunday, May 9, 2010

Druidry: The Bard Today

The Bard is the first of three Druid grades, the other two being Ovate and Druid. Traditionally, Bards were poets and singers, Ovates were healers and prophets, and Druids were philosophers and teachers. In the Bardic grade, the order of Bards, Ovates and Druids focuses on the development of one's self-understanding, personal growth, and creativity.

The Bard's creativity may involve any of the arts - painting, drawing, sculpture, wood-carving, needlework, origami, dance, theater, mime, film, fiction and non-fiction writing, poetry, storytelling, singing, playing of musical instruments. The Bard's creativity also involves all aspects of life. It involves the way one does one's work, exercising creativity in teaching, law, medicine, business, plumbing, computer programming, tourism, transportation, farming, fishing. It involves the way one lives one's personal life, exercising creativity in one's family, home, meals, hospitality, recreational pursuits.

I would say that today's Bard has three important functions.

To approach life as an Artist. Anyone who practices an art form is exercising a Bardic role. So is anyone who works creatively in any field and anyone who lives creatively.

I think of my friend Marsha, who takes a creative, entrepreneurial approach to work and finances. Marsha operates a successful landscaping and plant nursery business, runs a smaller side-business in essential oils, teaches community organizing and leadership skills at a community college, offers her mountain-side home as a retreat or seminar center, and rents out her basement apartment. Marsha directly incorporates art into her landscaping work: she prepares a beautiful water-color painting of the landscaping that she has worked out in consultation with each client as a kind of blue-print.

I have brought the Artist into my life in writing, drawing, and throwing parties. At various times in my life, I have done quite a bit of writing, including an unfinished memoir. I also have a folder full of drawings of my inner life, called Karen's Healing Art. And I enjoy throwing parties, often organized around interesting themes.

To encourage the Artist in others. This is essential. It is so important for people to understand that every one of us is creative. Art is not just for people who are "specially gifted." It is for everyone. This especially needs to be encouraged in children. A Bard encourages the artist in others. To perfect an art form, "special gifting" is not required. What is required is discipline and perseverance.

I think of Paulette, who taught me to draw at age forty-five in an adult education course called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Paulette's philosophy was that anyone can be taught to draw. She was right. With proper instruction, I went from childish stick figures to amazingly sophisticated adult art in eight weeks.

I try to exemplify this in my writing classes with the attitude that everyone can write and everyone has something important to say. This is one reason that I have my writing students choose their own writing topics. Writing is not to fulfill a boring assignment but to express something one is passionate about.

To preserve the stories. A Bard preserves the stories - of his or her family, neighborhood, city or town, religious group, workplace, club, state, region, nation, world. In oral cultures, the Bard was extremely important because the Bard passed down the history and self-understanding of the tribe, none of which was written.

Today, those who write memoirs are Bards. Often, a memoirist gives voice, not only to his or her own story, but to the stories of others like him or her. For example, Nancy Venable Raine, in her memoir, After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back, gives voice not only to her own story but also to all women who have been raped. Frank McCourt, in his memoir Angela's Ashes, gives voice not only to his own story but also to all those who have lived in dire poverty in the lanes of Limerick, Ireland.

Historians are Bards - I would say, especially those who tell the story from the point of view of the common person. For example, those who have collected oral histories of Hurricane Katrina from the ordinary people who lived through it and have then published these in written form are Bards. I also think of Barry A. Lemoine, who had his 2001 high school class collect oral histories of people who had survived Hurricane Betsy in the New Orleans area in 1965 and then had the class present the oral histories as a play titled "An Evening with Betsy: Voices from the Storm."

On a very small scale, I have sometimes held Story Circles at my home, where a group of friends and I each tell a memory from our lives. In doing this, we recall our stories and tell them to ourselves and each other.

Druidry: Four Time Periods

Druidry has gone through four time periods, described by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids as I will lay out below. I will use BCE to indicate Before the Common Era,and CE to indicate the Common Era. The Common Era is the era that began with Jesus Christ.

PROTO-DRUIDRY (25,000 BCE to 600 BCE). Since much of this time period was pre-historical, it is hard to know much about Proto-Druidry, except that ancient people developed an understanding of deity and a reverence for nature. During this time period, the great stone monuments, such as Stonehenge, were constructed, probably between 4200 BCE and 1400 BCE.

CLASSICAL DRUIDRY (600 BCE to 600 CE). Druidry flowered during this time. A well-developed body of teachings and practices came into being, with schools where one could undertake a nineteen-year training to become a Druid.

UNDERGROUND DRUIDRY (600 CE to 1600 CE). With the arrival of Christianity, Druidry went underground. Druid teaching survived in folklore; in Bardic schools that continued to function, often secretly, in Ireland and Scotland; in tales and practices adopted and adapted by the Christian Church; in manuscripts of ancient tales and sayings recorded by Christian scribes; and in physical monuments, such as sacred wells and stone circles.

REVIVAL DRUIDRY (1600 CE to Present). The Renaissance got Europeans interested in ancient teachings, which were spread by the printing press. The Romantic movement sparked an enthusiasm for folk culture, and in Britain, people became interested in their Celtic ancestors. This led to a revival of interest in Druidry and the formation of Druid groups. Today there are well-established and recognized Druid orders in Britain and elsewhere in the world, practicing and teaching Druidry.

Some people question the authenticity of today's Druids, wondering how today's Druids can call themselves Druids when we lack solid, factual, written information on ancient Druid teachings and practices. This comes from a linear-time mindset in which, as we move further and further into the future, we move further and further away from Classical Druidry, which recedes further and further into the past and becomes lost in the mists of ancient time.

There is, however, another way to look at this. We might see time as circular, with God in the center of the circle. As we move closer and closer toward God, we come closer and closer to the spirit of Druidry. Authentic Druidry depends on closeness to God, not on proximity to a particular time period. We might note, for instance, that indigenous religions from around the world have an amazing similarity of teachings and practices - honoring of animals, reverence for the four directions, use of sacred music and dance, to name a few. The people practicing these indigenous religions are widely separated on the globe, yet the practices are very similar. This can be attributed to closeness - not to each other - but to God.

Time does not separate us from distant or ancient spiritual people. They and we are united in God.

It is also worth noting that any religion will evolve over time, especially if one is attuned to God. The Spirit of God is creative and active, not stagnant, and understandings of deity and religious practices that developed during one time period may not fit another time period. Therefore, even if we knew exactly what ancient Druids taught and practiced, it would make little sense for us today to adopt these ancient teachings and practices wholesale. We might think, for example, of the ancient Hebrew practice of animal sacrifice. This worked for the ancient Hebrews but is hardly appropriate for Jewish people today.